Composed in 1962, Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata is the second of the series of three woodwind sonatas which he wrote in the last years of his life. Although missing from the first edition of the published score, its inscription is to the memory of his friend Arthur Honegger. The opening ‘Allegro tristamente’ is full of Poulenc’s familiar musical fingerprints, of which the clarinet’s initial gruppetto and the piano’s rhythmic punctuations are typical, as is the quiet and steady pulse of the reiterated octave C in the bass, above which the clarinet’s melodic line soon emerges. The second phrase has a contrasted dotted inflection. Their juxtapositions and alternations propel the movement gently forward. There is a brief backward glance at the opening page before a section marked ‘Très calme’ in which the clarinet’s rocking ostinato heralds the return of previously heard material and a hushed ending.
The clarinet begins the central Romanza with a four-note motif and short accompanied recitative before first suggesting and then settling down to its main melody, marked ‘Très doux et mélancholique’, in the placid G minor to which several changes of tonal perspective eventually return. Nostalgic sentiments play no part in the animation of the final Allegro which begins and ends in a riotous C major.
from notes by Felix Aprahamian © 1999